Solving childhood obesity requires strong connections within coalitions, new study suggests

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Newswise: How do you solve a problem as vast and intractable as childhood obesity? A new study from researchers at Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and ChildObesity180 offers important new clues. It suggests that coalitions working to end childhood obesity can create lasting change more quickly if members build close relationships with people in different types of organizations, can learn new information quickly, and can share that new knowledge within their existing networks and with others. people from other sectors.

“We found that it was relevant whether or not members of a coalition spoke more frequently with people outside their own constituency,” says Travis Moore, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in the School’s Division of Nutrition Interventions, Communication, Nutrition. Friedman. and Behavior Change. “If a coalition is made up of public health people, hospitals, schools, and community agencies, for example, but the public health people only talk to other public health people and the community agency people only talk to each other, the change It happens more slowly.”

The study, recently published in BMC Public Health, examined three of the 9 communities enrolled in Catalyzing Communities, an initiative to create successful community-wide interventions to prevent and decrease rates of childhood obesity across the country. The initiative is part of ChildObesity180, a Tufts University effort founded by Christina Economos, dean interim from the Friedman School and lead author of the study, to address the complex drivers of childhood obesity and its impact at all stages of life.

Catalyzing Communities works closely with multi-sector community coalitions to use evidence-based systems solutions to identify high-impact opportunities to improve health and increase health equity for children.

In this most recent study, the researchers examined how community coalition formation changed over time overall and how an intervention might be tailored to improve adoption of childhood obesity prevention strategies within coalitions. Coalitions whose members quickly learn new insights about how child health promotion is driven forward and make more partnerships across sectors will be the most successful, the research suggests.

“Coalitions become more effective faster when members maintain their current partnerships while also making a lot of connections across sectors and maintaining those relationships, too,” says Economos, who is also New Balance’s chair in child nutrition and a professor of nutrition at Tufts. “Coalition members who learn more about childhood obesity prevention tend to increase the number of people they share that information with. And the people who are connected to those coalition members also increase their understanding and commitment to the issue.”

Moore points out that while we know a lot about what causes childhood obesity, we know much less about how to effect change and create health equity. “Most research focuses on the structure of coalitions,” says Moore. “Our research attempts to understand how groups evolve over time and ultimately create change. Through our research, we believe we can help groups create better mechanisms to redistribute both knowledge and resources to create health equity.”

Participating communities include Greenville, South Carolina; Somerville, Worcester and East Boston, Massachusetts; Cuyahoga Country, Ohio; Tucson, Ariz.; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Harlem, New York; Garfield Park, Illinois; and Harris County, Texas.

The work was supported by funds from the JPB Foundation. Full information about authors, funders and conflicts of interest is available in the published article.

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